Tuesday, April 22, 2008

HotDocs 2008 #5: BASE-heads and Race in Bed

Well, traffic at this blog has certainly picked up considerably in the past 24 hours.

It looks like yesterday’s account of the weirdness at Beyond Our Ken has attracted some attention. And we at the ‘Pie welcome input, so feel free to leave your comments when you visit.

Unfortunately, today’s proceedings were decidedly low-key and uneventful.

Both screenings this afternoon were double bills. First up was the short doc 52 Percent (6/8), which was a sort of quiet portrait of an 11-year-old ballerina trying to get into a prestigious ballet academy in St. Petersburg, Russia. The title refers to the ideal ratio of leg length to body length...and the subject of the film is, sadly, 0.4% short of this number. It was a nicely melodic little movie...but the biggest laughs in the whole thing come from the girl’s inquisitive cat, who stalks the camera and peers directly into the lens, obscuring an entire shot. Adorable.

That film was paired with a comparatively wild and wonderful mid-length sports documentary called 20 Seconds of Joy (7/8), which profiles 30-year-old BASE jumper Karina Hollekin over several years as she chases the rush in what is easily one of the world’s most dangerous sports. [For those not in the know, BASE (Building, Antenna, Span, Earth) jumping involves climbing to a very, very high place (a mountain, a bridge, a skyscraper) and then jumping off, armed with nothing more than a small parachute in a knapsack.] As a (seemingly hyper-caffeinated) American jumper explains in the film, the life expectancy of a BASE jumper is about six years...because they either get scared and stop, get injured and are forced to stop, or die. This same fellow, who was hugely entertaining and passionate, also explains that if you’re not prepared to die AND watch your friends die, this ain’t your bag. (No kidding. Yikes.) Stunning cinematography, perfect pacing and a compelling subject made this a terrific afternoon thrill ride. One tragically ironic footnote: the film is dedicated to the memory of its cameraman, a BASE jumper who died BASE jumping after the film’s completion.

But what made this screening even better was the Q&A afterwards. Director Jens Hoffmann (who I’ve seen almost every day at various screenings) was in attendance with one of his producers, and they took a couple of questions from the audience. Then, at some random moment, he said something like, “We should let Karina answer for herself...” and then he INTRODUCED HER. She was there! Talk about burying the lead! I wasn’t sure why she hadn’t been mentioned before the screening or before the Q&A, because I’m sure a number of the people who left as soon as the credits rolled likely would have stayed had they known she was in attendance. Alas. But I was there, and I stayed, and so I got to hear what she had to say about her passions and the accident (featured in the film) that could have killed her.

The day’s second double bill got underway with Conversation (6/8), an inventive little gem that features a split screen, with one person on camera (in a tight, head shot) on each side. Then, one by one, several dozen people each comment on their first impressions of the people on the other side of the split screen, based solely on what they look like. Presumably, this process involved each subject viewing a photo of another and having their comments filmed. It’s difficult to describe the structure clearly, but suffice it to say it was an interesting experiment in first impressions. Can you, for example, tell that someone is nice or trustworthy or a teacher or a criminal based on one look?

The latter half of the double bill was...I dunno...kind of disappointing, yet I can’t quite pinpoint why. My gut tells me it had to do with the filmmaker himself, who kind of came off as obnoxious. The doc was The Glow of White Women (4/8) by Yunus Vally, an Indian South African who sort of recounts his life, apartheid, his heritage and his relationships as they all relate to the ideal of white women in that country at those times. More specifically, how a good deal of it related to his own sexual exploits. I was never really sure what the point of his film was – was it a political film? a historical one? an autobiography? all of the above? none of the above? – and that clouded my impressions, I think. There were some neat graphic-design elements in the film, and the archival footage from the 1970s and earlier was fascinating, but ultimately it left me feeling underwhelmed and kind of annoyed.

And that was it for today. I was pooped and opted to come home to a proper dinner and bedtime before 1:30am. *yawn*


Linda said...

I has no idea BASE jumping was an acronym! Thanks for the interesting fact of the day!

Lou said...

I am strangely drawn to your comments on the documentary about BASE jumping. The accompanying photo is spectacular, and maybe if such perspectives are to be had only by risking one's life in pseudo-flight, well, maybe the risk is worth the view.